Well, folks, we’ve hit THAT time of year. What time of year would that be, you say?
That time of year—aka WINTER—where Dogs Deserve Better’s phones ring off the hook with people desperate for help for a freezing dog on a chain or in a pen next door.
What many folks don’t know or don’t understand is that in most parts of the U.S., it is still perfectly legal to force a dog to live on a chain 24/7/365.
Cruel? You bet your bottom dollar. But—in most cases—legal.
Dogs Deserve Better, and many other groups small and large, want to put an end to this (how shall I term it elegantly) BS.
There are laws in about 200-300 cities, counties and a handful of states that limit the amount time a dog can remain tethered—see this link for a listing of most of the current laws on the books. Note that there are fifteen states listed as having some kind of tethering laws on the books statewide, but most of these laws say only that you can’t CRUELLY chain a dog. Alas, in most cases of typical chaining, humane officers or animal control officers don’t consider the mere act of chaining to be cruel, rendering the law a rather useless addendum to animal cruelty statutes.
The best state law on the books comes from California, where one cannot chain a dog for more than three hours at a time, and even that’s supposed to be only to ‘complete a temporary task.’ Unfortunately, it’s still legal to affix a dog in California to a trolley line—a glorified tether—or throw the dog in a pen for life. That, I’m afraid to say, is legal pretty much anywhere.
I formed Dogs Deserve Better because I, like most of the citizens who reside in the U.S., was horrified that in 2002 it was still legal to chain a dog in America.
I had no idea that I couldn’t get help from authorities for the dogs I saw rotting away at the end of a chain when I moved back to Pennsylvania after my stint in the U.S. Air Force and finishing college in the MD/DC area. When I tried and was told repeatedly by an unsympathetic humane officer that there was nothing I could do about the suffering I was forced to witness, I felt anger, helplessness, hopelessness; and then finally determination to do something about it.
I myself come from a family of chainers. Granted, it was much more prominent in the 1960s and 70s than it is today, but, even then, I knew it was wrong.
How can you look at a dog living on a chain and not know in your gut that it’s wrong?
Here’s a quote illustrating this certain knowledge that I loved from this article: ““Even if you don’t know that not tethering is a law [in California], you’d have to be an idiot to not know that keeping an animal on a stake is so 1950s junkyard-dog,” Welsh said. “You have to be totally insensitive to put your dog in the backyard tied to a tree. If people see a dog tied to a porch, fence or stake, they should call us and we’ll go out.”
I grew up on a 108-acre farm in the tiny village of St. Augustine, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. We had two dogs, Gally, a black lab, and Maggie, a beagle. Neither of these dogs was allowed to live inside the home with us, but Gally had it better than Maggie. He was free to roam the farm and find all kinds of trouble, including his penchant for dragging home dog food bags from parts unknown and rolling in dead animals to achieve a repugnant pungence that only he seemed to appreciate.
Maggie, on the other hand, was ostensibly a hunting hound, but to my knowledge she never left that chain until the day my brother lost her in the woods. Her’s was a sad and lonely existence, and I hope and pray that my work for those of her kind can begin to make up for what my family did to her by leaving her chained for life.
So, let’s say now you find yourself in the same quandary I did when I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1995 and bought a house only 1/4 mile from the dog you see above, ‘Worthless’. (No, I didn’t call him that, his owners did).
You are living next door to or seeing a dog chained in the cold—day in and day out.
Rain, snow, sleet, hail; heat, cold. None of that matters, the dog is still out there, alone, freezing, wondering what he/she did wrong to be ostracized from the pack, the family, and begging to get back in.
What to do, what to DO?
Here are some steps I recommend for you to follow, and maybe, just maybe, you will work some magic for the voiceless, suffering being whose only hope may very well be YOU.
1. Research your laws and educate yourself to them.
As I said above, there ARE communities that do have laws limiting the time a dog may live chained. You want to educate yourself on your local chaining laws; because if you don’t, animal control will take advantage of the fact that you are uninformed and use it to blow you off.
Here are the links again to start your research:
This site has many of the time limit or ban laws listed on chaining, but most likely not all because some slip through the cracks: http://www.unchainyourdog.org/Laws.htm
This site has municipal codes of every kind for many cities in the U.S. They may have yours. https://www.municode.com/
If you find nothing on either site, contact your local city or county administration office and find out what your animal cruelty laws are, which would be in addition to your state cruelty laws.
In general, here’s the way laws operate: A state can have a law, say, a law limiting chaining to three hours a day like California. A county or city can then implement a STRICTER law, but NOT a looser law. Say, then, Los Angeles could come along and create a stronger law than the state law, banning the chaining of dogs altogether, but they couldn’t create a looser law, say one limiting chaining to ten hours a day. Does that make sense? So if you live in California, there’s a chance you have your state law, which is three hours, PLUS a local law which could limit chaining or penning even further.
2. If your State or Local Community has a Law Limiting Chaining.
If you have a state or local law banning or limiting chaining, you ARE AMONG THE LUCKY ONES! COUNT YOURSELF BLESSED. In theory, this would mean that you could call your local animal control and they would come along, issue a warning or have a little talk with the owner, and the dog would be taken inside or given up to animal control if the caretakers didn’t want to comply with the law. Happily ever after. (As long as someone goes along and rescues the dog from animal control, of course.) Unfortunately, this happy turn of events is pretty rare.
If you have a state law and the law is blatantly ignored or broken and animal control won’t do anything about it, then you have to force the issue. Follow the steps listed below to take further action on behalf of the dog.
3. If your State or Local Community DOESN’T have a Law Limiting Chaining.
If you don’t have a state or local law banning or limiting chaining, BEND OVER AND KISS YOUR A@$ GOODBYE, cause you’re in for a rough ride. Bwahaha. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!
But it is dire, mostly for the dog; and for you too, if you’re hoping to get a good night’s sleep at all this winter.
By now you will have researched your state laws and at least know what the general cruelty laws say. At a minimum, all states have a law that roughly reads “a dog must have food, water, shelter, and veterinary care”. If the dog doesn’t have these things, or the dog is severely underweight or has some other malady or injury, you still have a shot at animal control or humane officers taking some kind of action on behalf of the dog.
I estimate—from my 13+ years experience in working to free chained dogs all over the U.S.—that about 20% of animal control officers qualify as ‘good guys.’ These are folks, men and women, who actually BELIEVE that chaining is not the way to keep a dog and doesn’t meet a dog’s needs, and even if they don’t have a law on the books, these people will go out of their way to creatively educate the owners or find that the method of chaining or the fact that they are chaining at all is cruel. I LOVE THESE OFFICERS!
If you’re lucky enough to find one of this 20%, you have a good chance of making real change on behalf of the dog.
Unfortunately, that leaves 80% that don’t qualify, in my opinion, as ‘good guys.’ These officers could care less about the dog, or even if they do have a dog at home that lives inside and they don’t personally believe in chaining, they uphold the letter of the law and refuse to make any waves or encourage people with chained dogs to do better.
Sometimes—quite often actually—these officers MAKE YOU OUT TO BE THE BAD GUY instead of the dog chainer, which is very upsetting to someone who just wants the best for a dog who lives in bad conditions.
4. Speak to the Caretakers About the Dog.
This step should come next IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TETHERING LAW. It is my opinion that this should be tried before calling animal control if there is no law to protect the dog, because once you call animal control, they will be pissed and you won’t have a chance of getting through to them.
This step takes a lot of courage; if you can make yourself buddy buddy up to the caretaker, you have a better chance of getting them to give you the dog, OR at least better the dog’s living conditions.
Sometimes, they simple say ‘take the dog, I don’t want him/her anymore anyway,’ and you can have what is literally the BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE BECAUSE YOU GET TO FREE THIS PRECIOUS BEING (have them hand write a transfer of ownership to you for your protection) and set him/her on to a better life.
Sometimes, they listen to what you have to say but show absolutely no interest in bettering life for their dog or allowing you to help or walk the dog.
Sometimes, they get crazy and scream and yell no matter how nice you are, and you have to hightail it out of there before things get too ugly.
The last one happens a lot.
But, no matter what, after this step you know where things stand, and you know if you can make any headway on your own.
Dogs Deserve Better has brochures you can buy at a low cost, as well as doorhangers, and posters. Check them out at our store, here: http://dogsdeservebetter.org/store.html
We also have a volunteer page with handout letters, brochures, and other items you can print out and take with you. That page is here: http://dogsdeservebetter.org/volunteer.html
5. Report the Dog and the Address to Animal Control or your local Humane Officer.
In all cases, if talking to the neighbors doesn’t work, report the address to your local animal control or humane officer. Even if they do nothing, (which is what happens in most cases), at least they go out and look at the dog, and then both the local authorities AND the owners know that citizens don’t want to see dogs living outside anymore.
I believe we CAN AND WILL change society by raising our voices. We can’t be quiet about it.
6. If Animal Control or the Humane Officer does nothing, here are the ways Dogs Deserve Better can get involved.
If you believe the dog’s situation is illegal, take photos and fill out this form: http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/chainedaddresses.html. It is best if you give us a way to contact you so we can discuss the situation and help you to help the dog. However, if the photos are egregious and show definite illegalities (and you still want to be anonymous), we can find other local people to confirm and work with animal control to hopefully get help for the dog/s.
If you believe the dog’s situation is not illegal but want our opinion, take photos and fill out this form: http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/chainedaddresses.html. For this we will need your contact information to get back to you.
If you believe the dog’s situation is not illegal, but know like we do that it is immoral and cruel, then fill out the form, and you can remain anonymous. We will mail educational information to the dog’s caretakers in hopes that they will do better for their dog. http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/chainedaddresses.html
7. If the situation is really illegal and the dogs are in bad shape but animal control and/or the police are not helping, get us photos right away and we will put public pressure on the officials. Or, create your own facebook page or post about the dogs with the photos, and ask us to crosspost it for you.
I’m working a case right now on our Facebook page with skeletal dogs that a citizen posted photos of. (It’s a status, so it may not be there if you don’t click it tonight. https://www.facebook.com/dogsdeservebetter?pnref=story) I networked with the citizen, downloaded the photos, got the numbers for animal control and the police in Corpus Christi Texas, and put them on our facebook with requests for calls. People are calling like crazy! It can and does work.
DDB’s volunteer and rescue coordinator Robin Budin usually oversees these cases for us, and we have a good deal of success with them. There is strength and power in numbers, so we all have to stick together! If dogs are suffering and nothing is being done, good photos of the situation can compel people to make the calls on behalf of the dogs. When law enforcement receives enough phone calls about a situation, often something is done.
If you are in this kind of situation and need immediate help for a dog or dogs that are in bad shape, e-mail Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to send photos and your contact information so she can help you.
8. Make an End Run Around Cruelty Laws by Reporting Noise Violations
Most dogs left out in the backyard on a chain or in a pen bark. A lot. And then they bark some more. Why? Because they are cold, bored, lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, hopeless, helpless, injured, dying, praying you’ll notice them. You get the picture. If the dog is in distress, odds are good that he or she is barking.
Most cities and counties have noise ordinances, where you can’t make a ton of noise after say 10:00 p.m. Check your locality for the ordinance that is in effect there, and use it to your advantage.
If nothing else has worked, this could be the way around the situation. With enough noise violations, the owner will either have to take his/her dog inside, or relinquish the dog to animal control. If that happens, and you care about that dog, PLEASE go get him/her out of animal control! With owner surrenders, they are authorized to kill the dog very quickly, so if you care about the dog enough to make a stink on his/her behalf, then go rescue him/her from animal control and either find a group to take the dog or adopt him/her yourself.
It is worth your while to adopt that dog and give him the life he never had before; you will have no better feeling than seeing this dog sleeping on your couch or his own dog bed this holiday season. I promise you that.
9. Work on Chain-ging Laws.
I almost forgot this step, and aside from helping one single dog starfish style, this is the most important step! If your city or county doesn’t have a law, take on the task of creating and getting one passed. Laws get chain-ged by citizens like you and I that take it on and don’t stop until we succeed. The state level is very difficult, but the city and local laws are not AS hard to get passed. Visit our Get Laws page for many good articles and suggestions for you. By chain-ging a law, you help many many dogs as opposed to just the few you manage to salvage from a backyard situation. http://dogsdeservebetter.org/laws.html
Yep, it’s that time of year, folks. Let’s not go into it unprepared this year. Good luck, and please be a voice for the dogs near you. They need our help, and we are often all that stands between them and certain death at the end of a chain.